Thursday, January 21, 2016

Cradlepoint as a Backup WAN

I've been skeptical of using cellular as a backup solution, cost being the primary concern.  Cellular data is not exactly cheap.  Yet I found myself in a situation recently where I was working from and had a remote cutover.  Less than an hour before the cutover, my home internet went down.  Now posed with the option of either driving into the office, or finding another internet connection with less than an hour.

I grabbed my IBR1100 that @Cradlepoint gave me from #WFD8.  I pulled the SIM out of my work cell phone and 3D printed an adapter in order to get my SIM into the router.  One I powered the IBR1100 up, it came up and I logged into the interface for the first time.  The interface is simple, the initial setup wizard asks a lot of the right questions to get the device up and running quickly for most of their primary use cases.



Instead of just using the built-in wifi in the IBR, I used the ethernet connection to connect it to my existing home firewall in place of my DSL modem.  My VPN tunnel to the office came up normally and I was back in business.  Total time to get up and operational was about 45 minutes and that included the 3D printing of the SIM adapter.

Home-built SIM Adapter


Overall, the performance across the IBR1100 was great.  I actually got around the same numbers (~7Mbps) as I do across my DSL line, albeit with 20-30ms of increased latency.  Still acceptable for the VoIP conference call during the cutover.  The work I was doing wasn't bandwidth intensive, but the link never felt slow or sluggish.  And yes, I do live out in the country with a slow DSL provider.
Now before you say it, I know that I could have just hotspot'd off my work phone.  The signal strength for that particular provider isn't great at my house on my existing cell phone, and my hotspot tends to cut out and get really slow at times at home.  This was a great test to see how the antennas and radio in the IBR1100 did compared to just a hotspot off of a mobile device.  Where I normally get 1 bubble of signal at home, the Cradlepoint shows full bars.

Post cutover, I continued having issues and outages plaguing me on my DSL provider at home.  I configured my IBR as a secondary internet connection and configured failover on my home firewall.  Failover happened periodically over the next couple of weeks, and my IBR just picked up and rolled with it.  So much so that I had to configure email notifications for my firewall when it was failing over.

In the two weeks I used this solution only 400MB of data were consumed, not nearly as much as I would have thought.  I also priced out doing a similar solution for a customer where they had 6 branch sites all with a cable provider for backup at each site.  Interestingly enough, even buying the hardware, it was less than a year to ROI.

In terms of using the Cradlepoint, the GUI on the device itself is pretty simple.  It's clean, easy to use and has very logical groupings with data readily available.  That said, I'm not sure how well advanced configs will be.  My understanding is there is a CLI, so that may be the next logical step.  For most things, I didn't feel the need to go to a CLI.

Administrative page on the IBR1100


As great as this worked for my outage, this isn't what the IBR1100 was built for.  This particular model is built for industrial and vehicle deployments.  My plan is to install this beast in my truck and have hotspot capabilities when I travel on the road.  My work SIM is a different carrier than the phone I typically carry, so I can even leverage wifi calling when on the road.  I'm looking forward to seeing how the IBR1100 does in an automotive application, although I'm not super excited about drilling a hole in the roof of my truck for the external antenna.

What's next?  Installing the IBR1100 into my truck.  I'm eyeing a 5-in-1 antenna option (2x Cellular, 2x Wifi, and GPS).  My goal is to use the Cradlepoint ECM (Enterprise Cloud Manager) and feeding the GPS data to another application.  My thought is to model a fleet management system to see what advantages can be gained through this solution.
Cradlepoint Enterprise Cloud Manager


Finally, one of the features that I find the most impressive with the Cradlepoint is the universal cellular card.  Changing this card from AT&T to Verizon and back has been great.  Just upload the new code to it via ECM and you can change providers (provided you have a SIM for each provider).

Note that I was provide my IBR1100 from Cradlepoint as part of my participation in #WFD8.  ECM access is provided through my employer as was my SIM and data plan.